Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater.

For a complete, up-to-date East Bay theater listings, look under "Billboard" on the home page for the "Select Catagory" pulldown, then select "Theater & Performing Arts."

Dog Act -- The United States has collapsed into disunited tribes, and seasons change in an instant. That's about all we know in Liz Duffy Adams' Dog Act, Shotgun Players' first full production at their new home. Wandering through this wasteland are a gal and her dog, or rather traveling vaudevillian Rozetta Stone and her companion Dog, a brooding young man who has for some mysterious reason chosen to live his life as a dog. And there are many Road Warrior-like desperadoes. The two we meet are a pair of boisterous yahoos named Coke and Bud, after the aluminum cans incorporated into their armor. The plot's pretty simple, and as dystopian futures go, very vague. The genius of this play is not in its imperfect future but in the devilish details and, most of all, the words. -- S.H. (September 23 through October 10 at the Ashby Stage; 510-841-6500 or ShotgunPlayers.org)

Force of Nature -- Playhouse West's adaptation by Steven Deitz of Goethe's novel Elective Affinities starts with a worrisome present-day framing sequence in which modern versions of the characters frolic with Frisbees. But once it reverts to a period piece, the philosophical dialogue sounds far less stilted. A man and woman live in marital bliss cultivating their garden until the husband invites his best friend to live with them, and his wife in turn invites a beautiful young protégée. Before you know it, everyone's in love with the wrong people, but this is neither soap opera nor farce, and the shift in affections is discussed as if it were a chemical reaction. Frequent asides to the audience enliven what might otherwise be stiff, stoic exchanges, and elegantly subtle performances carry off this thought-provoking, unsentimental romance with remarkable grace. -- S.H. (Through September 24 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; 925-943-7469 or DLRCA.org)

Grease -- When it comes right down to it, Grease is a lot like porn. You're sure not going for the plot. The characters are just there for a song or three, and there's not much more to them than that. It's a good thing that the songs are fun as bubblegum goes, and that the Contra Costa Musical Theatre gang sings 'em pretty well. It's not especially inspired, but everyone goes through the motions with big smiles and in good voice. -- S.H. (Through October 2 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts; 925-943-7469 or DLRCA.org)

Ravenscroft -- This dark comedy by Don Nigro is a bit uneven, as if it can't decide whether it's a parody of gothic murder mysteries or a gothic murder mystery with comic moments. In either case, those comic moments are awfully clever. This community theater production helmed by Steve Hill makes the most of its bare-bones set of scattered chairs and end tables by having the five women sitting in the background whenever they're not being interrogated, as a human backdrop. The performances along the way are generally solid. -- S.H. (Through October 2 at Masquers Playhouse; 510-232-3888 or Masquers.org)

Showdown at Crawford Gulch -- Probably the most charming of the four San Francisco Mime Troupe productions dedicated to George W. Bush. The Mime Troupe is once again examining the role of the media in furthering a war agenda, but this time it's a little more evenhanded. Although the satire is still pointed, the preaching is subtler and funnier than in years past. -- L.D. (Through Sept. 26 at area parks; 415-285-1717 or SFMT.org)

Tintypes -- This nostalgic musical revue strings together medleys of inescapable classics and obscure gems from 1876 up through 1920 with a couple introductory sentences here, some snippets of familiar speeches there, uncomplicated by plot or characters. Teddy Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, and Anna Held show up a few times, and it's possible that the stiff bits of silent slapstick are intended to evoke Charlie Chaplin. There's a fine reconstruction toward the end of some hoary vaudeville routines, but it's mostly an excuse for some amiable renditions of beloved old chestnuts from Sousa and Scott Joplin to Bert Williams and "Hello, Ma Baby," like a sing-along without, you know, singing along. The vocal performances are generally pleasant, and musical director Janet Oliphant contributes some fine ragtime piano. -- S.H. (Through October 9 at Altarena Playhouse; 510-523-1553 or Altarena.org)

Twelfth Night -- The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's production is a beauty, visually speaking. It's an intriguing, energetic staging. In short, it's everything a summer Shakespeare comedy should be, except actually funny. Stephen Klum strikes a slightly sinister presence as Feste, veteran Shakespearean Julian López-Morillas plays disheveled Sir Toby with a devilish savvy, Alex Moggridge is appropriately foppish and clueless as his stooge Sir Andrew, and Jack Powell is the very model of an immovable manservant as Malvolio. The actors do fine work individually, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. -- S.H. (Through September 26; 415-422-2222 or SFShakes.org)

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